Best Of :: Food & Drink
Rain hits the windows at a staccato beat, like the trailing shots from a dying man's gun. At least this place should offer some shelter from the weather. I just hope they serve a good cup of joe. Looking at the menu makes me dizzy. Am I dreaming? While I was trying to shake those guys, did I somehow cross into Broward County? The busty Cubanita sitting in the booth across from me says otherwise: "No, papi. You esteel in Mi-yami." She looks away as if I'm nuts, and maybe I am. Meat loaf, collard greens, corn bread, mac and cheese, gravy — all for the crumpled face of Alexander Hamilton in my pocket, plus the quarter I found in the parking lot. I look around at the other booths. This reminds me of when I was just a freckle-faced punk back East, before I knew that women would do more damage than cigarettes and whiskey. After pouring a little something extra from the flask in my jacket pocket, I chug down the coffee the waitress with the mile-long stems brought. Mmmm, that's good. I start to feel alive again, and I order my dinner. The gringa waitress and the stacked Cubanita are exchanging looks. Let them — I'm gonna enjoy this.
Let's talk alchemy. For centuries, wizened scholars — toiling in dark cellars, their wispy gray beards flirting with flames as they cooked cauldrons of metals and spices — searched endlessly for the secret to transmuting basic elements into something new, something otherworldly. Everyone from Isaac Newton to Tycho Brahe grew obsessed with finding the key. Honestly, they should have just ordered some pho at Miss Saigon. How else to explain what happens inside the massive, steaming bowl delivered to your table at the small Vietnamese eatery on Washington Avenue (or inside its larger sister restaurants in Coral Gables and Pinecrest)? In go a few basics: unctuous broth, thick rice noodles, and chunks of raw beef or chicken, topped off at the table with a plate of basil and sprouts and squirted with bottles of fiery red hot sauce and deep-black plum sauce. Yet into your mouth goes a magically complex meal, infinitely better than the sum of its humble parts. (And a steal at $10.95 for a bowl easily big enough for two). If that's not alchemy, our name is Ptolemy.
The American South has given us Hee Haw, boll weevils, Dollywood, and 92 percent of all mosquitoes in the United States. But it has also bestowed upon us Ray Hicks of West Virginia. It was he who brought Miami locals the First & First Southern Baking Company. When it comes to breakfast, Hicks's hot licks include cornmeal/blueberry pancakes; potato pancakes; blackberry waffles; chicken and waffles (with real maple syrup); a "lumberjack" breakfast of eggs, fried potatoes, two pancakes, two bacon strips, two sausage links, and a fruit cup; oatmeal; and, of course, grits. Most breakfasts run $5 to $9 and are served from 8 to 11 a.m. It's almost enough to make you want to put on a Lynyrd Skynyrd CD. Almost.
Almost as famous as this local chain's coal-oven pizza are its chicken wings. Spared from goopy sauces, Anthony's are seasoned with flavorful herbs and roasted at high heat in the oven. They arrive at the table in orders of ten ($8.95) or 20 ($14.95) with sweet caramelized onions and focaccia on the side. Their skin sports a nice char, and the flesh is moist inside. They are to the palate a coal-fired delight.
We all love Lulu — at least those of us old enough to remember her tearfully singing, "How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?" to Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love. Huh? Oh. Yes, of course. It goes without saying that we also all love Lulu the restaurant — operated by the team behind the Grove's number one meeting spot, GreenStreet. In fact, it is located right across the street from that landmark eatery and is something of a smaller, cozier version with the same mission: to provide a sidewalk café environment where locals can gather for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch — and lollygag over cocktails, wine (all bottles $25, all glasses $8), and value-driven cuisine. They call it "neighborfood," which means sandwiches of fried green tomatoes and apple-wood-smoked bacon ($11); shrimp tacos ($15); hamburgers, and patties culled from turkey, pork, and brown rice/black beans too ($12 to $15). Entrées likewise lean toward popular American classics: rotisserie chicken with French fries ($18); truffled mac and cheese ($13); and chimichurri churrasco ($20). We all love Lulu, which is why its tables have been packed since opening day. Wonder what became of that other Lulu?
It is a labor of love born from a love story: Jeremy and Paola Goldberg met while they were students at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After years of earning their stripes in other people's restaurants, the couple serendipitously ended up in Miami and opened a place of their own — located in Coral Gables and named for the highway that swoops by their alma mater. Jeremy helms the dining room, Paola is the chef, and the restaurant serves fresh, home-cooked fare. The concise menu includes charcuterie and cheese plates ($13), soups and salads ($6 to $9), small plates ($6 to $13), main plates ($14 to $23), and sides ($6). There are sticky chicken wings, burrata cheese with fig preserves, and entrées such as prosciutto-wrapped pork loin, and flank steak with grilled romaine hearts and blue cheese vinaigrette. Each plate, of course, is likewise loaded with love. The waitstaff here is excellent, and service is about as good as it gets: personable, knowledgeable, efficient, and professionally trained. Those years spent managing restaurants evidently served the Goldbergs well.